The Flint Sit-Down Strike Audio Presentation


Let me explain a little bit about uh... how I got involved in the strike. I had been the uh... national secretary of the Red Falcons of America, which was the socialist children's organization, operating out of the national office in Chicago. Our funding, if you can call it that, just became impossible; we, in nineteen thirty-six, in the uh... socialist party election campaign, it was so bad that all of the workers in the national office would get about a dollar a day when we were lucky, and on the days that we had to pay our rent, I lived in a called a Y.P.S.L co-op, Young People's Socialist League co-op, so we had to pay two dollars more for rent, and if fortunate on the rent day I would have that money to pay.

Well even that small amount was ending and we decided that I would go to Michigan, where one of our commrades Hive Fish was to become the state secretary of the Socialist Party, and I would hitch-hike around the state to raise money to keep him on as State Secretary in Flint, to work with the Flint Socialist Party, which was very active in the strike.

I was then, let's see, about twenty-one, twenty-two years old uh... at, at, at the time and uh... was coming there very green, in regard to this activity. True, I had been in a little trade union work as a young socialist in New York, uh... I was in a plant making wire clothes hangers, and I remember I got fired for trying to organize a union there, then a group of young socialists got jobs in a plant making window blinds... venetian window blinds, and uh... we organized it and had a strike. That one, we won, and after we won I left because the job had been done.

So there were these little bits, of course I had been picketting for many unions in New York, and the strikes that they had had, since I was usually unemployed there was usually no hardship. But then uh... at this time coming into Flint, it was coming into a very different union atmosphere. So I was, at best, a very rank and file youngster in this situations that we were in, but I got involved very quickly in some of the things that were happening.

We first came into Detroit, Hive Fish and his wife, whom he had just married, uh... and uh... the first thing I did in Flint was to go to a number of the union meetings that were still going on at the time during the strike, and went into one of the Fisher Body plants that was being sat in.

I was very much impressed by the discipline of the strikers in the plant. They had it so clean that you could practically eat off the floor, and uh... a number of them were busily engaged in making black jacks out of the leather that's used for seats. But it was policed very effectively by them, they had people oh... doing entertainment too, for instance a guy with a guitar siging songs; of course they made up some of their own songs and so on, and then after doing some of this, and meeting with the socialists there, including Genora Johnson and Kermit Johnson and uh... his father Carl Johnson, who had been the longtime leader of the socialist group in Flint. There were also Roy Ruther and quite a bunch of others.

I then went around the state hitch-hiking and holding meetings in different cities... I'm trying to remember how we got the names of the people with whom to hold the meetings, I assume that they were the socialist contacts in the different places like Saginaw, Bay City, and Lansing and Grand Rapids, and uh... Benton Harbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek. It was quite a little hitch-hiking trip.

[Interviewer] The purpose of your meeting was to get support for the strike?

Yes, and to raise funds to keep Hive Fish on as party secretary, in Flint. Then after uh... I did that, I came back to Flint and to Detroit and got a job as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing workers pretty quickly, but that meant working also in Flint and uh... throughout the state. At the time, I would come to Flint quite a bit to... even before I had the job with the Amalgamated, in order to be helpful with the strike work that was going on.

And uh... the... many of the socialists came into Flint to be helpful were people from uh... students who came from uh... various parts of the country. I remember one chap, Bruce Sloan, who was a sign painter and did a great many of the signs for the strike. The... a good many of the socialists lived in a, sort of a cooperative house that they shared together, and I recall that Hive Fish and Fonya, and Roy Ruther and Bruce Sloan, and a red headed gal from Cleveland who's name I can't recall at the mom... Scottie was what she was called, uh... were among the people there, and we would be in there or in the Pengelly Building where the meetings were being held all the time with the soup kitchen for the strikers and so on so....

We were involved in the nitty gritty of the uh... of helping in a, in a very Jimmy Higgins kind of way.

Show Transcript Speaker: Harry Fleischman. Interviewed by U-M Flint Labor History Project. Date of interview: 6-12-1979. Edited by Michael Van Dyke.

Copyright: ©2002 Michigan State University.